It might be time to get out and get to know your neighbours, be them Canucks in the North or Washington in the West. This loop takes in eccentric art works, stunning scenic drives, the worlds longest free ferry, and miles and miles of scenic smiles. From the potato processors in Idaho, through to the makers of ice wine, passing through apple country and back home again, it’s all here on the Kootenay loop.
Route: 338 miles of fun on both sides of the border. You could venture off down many alternate roads if you want to add onto the adventure.
Time: Minium 2-days, but you’ll enjoy it more if you spend some days exploring along the way.
Roads: Paved roads. Seasonally opened.
Google Maps Full Route Guide Map Link
Image: birdaviationmuseum.com A look inside the amazaing collection at the museum
Sandpoint Idaho – Porthill (US/CND border) 59 miles
The area around Sandpoint Idaho seems like it’s becoming more and more popular year after year. There was a time when you could quietly camp near some of the towns water-side hotels, now however the secret of Sandpoint and it’s prime and picturesque backdrops is catching on. The town only has a population of roughly 8500-people, but on long weekends in Summer it feels like it the population may have doubled. Will quickly revel some worthy motorcycle stops and you’ll see why.
A daytrip to one of Sandpoint’s well-hidden and under-recognized pearls of personal accomplishment, is the Bird Aviation Museum and Invention Center. Just 17-miles outside of Sandpoint on the personal property of inventor Forrest Bird, houses a personal collection of some twenty aircraft and various other motorized collectibles, as well as various medical and life-changing inventions.
Dr. Bird was known for inventing an array of medical equipment, including the Bird Respirator. Having had a keen interest in other inventors and amassing a personal fortune, you can now visit this unique museum for free. His life and collection are both inspirational and motivational. If you can spare a few hours around Sandpoint, it’s a must stop. The road out to his home is a mix of pavement and well traveled gravel.
Another inspirational drive just outside of Sandpoint is to the lifts at the Schweitzer mountain resort. Naturally, in winter it functions as a well-run ski hill. They don’t stop the fun for summer though, and you can take the 13-mile drive from Sandpoint up to the ski hills parking lot in the summer to see the views and sample the fun. The options at the top are even more diversified than in the winter.
The hill offers up zip lines, mountain biking, lift rides, horseback riding, huckleberry picking, dinning at the restaurant, and you can even pan for treasures in their sluice box area. If you’re are looking to spend a day or two around Sandpoint to get in a few of these spectacular rides, the hills hotel is open as well as a number of places in town. If you’re in Sandpoint on the weekend, check out the farmers market where you can grab a coffee and some locally grown foods for the road.
33-miles North of Sandpoint as you ride your way to the Canadian border, is great place to grab a couple of home-grown bottles for later or try after your day in the saddle. Heart Rock Wines in Bonners Ferry features the wines of North West America and the staff will make you feel right at home. You can do wine tastings here and get to know what you like and a little more about the wines of the region. If you didn’t know, the North West (Oregon, Idaho & Washington) have over 1800-winers, and in recent years the region has won more awards than any other region in the world! It might be time to stop and get to know your home-grown vines. If you timed your stop for a weekend, you’ll likely catch their farmers market too.
From your Heart Rock stop to the border formalities in Porthill is going to be a 26-mile stretch of pristine pavement. Usually the border crossing is quick and easy, just remember that Canada doesn’t like guns as much as America and you won’t be able to bring yours across the border. Pack your passport, eat your farmers market meats and cheese before you get here, and expect a line on a long weekend. If you follow those simple rules you should be just fine! That and you might want to fill up with fuel before getting into Canada, it will save you a costly surprise at the pumps.
Sandpoint to the border overview
- Stop by the Bird Aviation Museum to see a personal collection of planes and inventions by a home town hero
- Schweitzer Mountain isn’t just for winter. A stop in summer is the gateway to loads of endless fun
- Get to know more about your national wines with a stop at Heart Rock Wines
- At the border; remember your passport and forget your guns!
Image: Creston Valley Wildlife Managment. Take a break from your ride and hop into a canoe to enjoy some of natures beautiful scenery
Creston British Colombia Canada – Balfour 55 miles (includes 5-mile ferry ride)
After you cross into Canada you can follow the Kootenay River up towards the town of Creston. A beautiful town sitting at the base of Arrow Mountain. Here in Creston the stores are used to visits from their neighbours to the South, as a result you should be able to use your greenbacks at most stores in the town. After this though, you might want to have some crispy Canadian bills or use you credit card. In typical years, USD is worth more than the CND, so on your credit card bill it will look like you got a discount on everything you bought!
When you’re looking to experience a hint of Canadian nature and get to know the birds and the bees, and maybe a moose or two. Drop by the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area where you can take in a canoe tour, go on a self or guided walk, do some bird watching and learn about the animals native to the area. Price is free, donations are welcome, and the staff on hand should be able to field your questions about the area. It’s located just 7-miles outside of Creston, set near streams, vegetation and small bodies of water. All great locations for spotting wildlife.
Perhaps you skipped the last wine stop as it was too early in the day, maybe you want to compare grapes on one side of the border to the other. No matter what your reason, the area around Creston is ripe for the picking. Along with a vast array of fruits that you can pick up at local markets, they also have a nice selection of wineries. Just outside of Creston, and located side by side, is the Skimmerhorn Winery and Vineyard as well as the Baillie-Grohman Estate Winery. Both offer up great samplings of local wines. Don’t worry, you can spit it out if you’re bike didn’t come with a driver. Can you can tell the difference between a Canadian and American grape, maybe it’s the accent?
As you venture North out of Creston you’ll pass by the alluring Kootenay Lake and Kootenay Mountain range. This drive is beautifully breathtaking as you wander the highway to Kootenay Bay. Once you get to Kootenay Bay you can check longest free scenic ferry in the world off your list. You’ll skim across the calm cool waters of Kootenay Lake while stunning peaks make up the scenery in the background. All this sponsored by the Canadian government. The ride is 5-miles long and takes about 35-minutes to complete. If nothing else, it’s worth the price of admission.
Once you’re back on solid ground you’ll be riding the 3a highway into beautiful Balfour British Columbia. If you fancy a round of Canadian golf or are just looking for delectable lunch water-side, just off the edge of town and right next to the water is the Balfour Golf Course . The course is an 18-hole premium course who aim to please. Maybe not the spot to roam around in your biker boots, but you can rent what you need here.
Creston to Belfour Overview
- Stop by the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area to get a look at some Canadian birds and if you’re lucky, a moose or two
- The wineries around Creston are a great place to try the local grapes. If you’ve never heard of Ice Wine ask around and a bottle of the sweet stuff is likely to appear
- If you don’t think your motorcycle will float, ride it onto the longest free scenic ferry in the world from Kootenay Bay to Balfour
Image: touchstonenelson.ca A look at the artwork on display that is casually enjoying a beer in your presence.
Balfour - Castlegar 47 miles
Just 20-miles down the road will bring you into the wildly eclectic town of Nelson. If you’ve ever wanted to know where marijuana was “legal” in Canada before it was actually legal in Canada, this is the town. To the naked eye it looks like any small mountain town, but behind the scenes it’s more like a chapter from a Harry Potter movie with mythical little humans living in the hills. If you want a wee taste you should park you bike on Baker Street and just stroll around.
The windows are works of art and the cafes are wildly creative. Some notable stops are probably going to be Oso Negro Café, a bit like having coffee in your grandmothers prized gardens. Poke your head into the Chop Chop, it looks like a 50’s garage, but it’s really a barber shop. Not to worry, its all perfectly safe, just interesting to outsiders. Finally, whether you’re into the arts or not, a hour at the Touchstone Nelson Museum of Art and History will have you wondering what it was that influenced the creative works of such eccentric artwork. The whole town is a trip all it’s own, enjoy the ride ☺
Once you’ve left the wandering Wizards and artistic Elves of Nelson behind, you’ll want to continue on the 3A towards the town of Castlegar. Just before Castlegar you might find yourself getting lured away by tiny towns with names like Brilliant and Raspberry. Despite their brilliant and fruity names, don’t get distracted and press on a few minutes to Castlegar.
In the town there are a few interesting stops like the Zuckerburg Island Park. You might recognize the name from the creator of online stalking app FaceBook, but there is no relation. The park is home to a historical house where you can learn about the 2000-year-old history of the area, as well as walk across the suspension bridge and enjoy the trails. This might be a welcome break from the stock seat you’ve been riding since Sandpoint. The town also markets itself as the “Sculpture Capital of Canada”. If you’re into the arts or looking to pick up a piece to ride pillion on your Harley, all artworks are for sale! The towns location is beautiful and all the usual amenities exist. You can easily eat, drink or sleep.
- Check out the non-Facebook inspired Zuckerburg park for a look into the towns 2000-year old history
- Take a stroll through the artwork in the “Sculpture Capital of Canada”. Don’t forget, they’re all for sale
- Leave town on the 3 or the 22, depending if you prefer more mountains or more rivers
Image: wikipedia. A look from above of the Metaline Bridge. I bet you can't wait to look at it from the seat of your bike!
Castlegar – Nelway- Sandpoint 142 miles
On the way out of Castlegar you have a couple of route options to get you back to your homeland. Either take the 3/Crowsnest Highway that takes you out past Ootischenia and winds through the mountains down to the border. Or you can take the 22 that mirrors the Columbia River down past Trail and Warfield. If you take the 3 it will take you over to Salmo, where it becomes the 6 and all the way down to the Nelway border crossing.
Here you’ll be in Washington, then you can ride down to Metaline. In Metaline you can make a quick stop to see the falls and majestic bridge across the river before working your way back towards Sandpoint. This route will have you following the Pend Oreille River that cuts beside the Colville National Forest. Follow this down to Newport just this side of Idaho in Washington and the back way into Sandpoint.
This route take you through some of the majestic parts of Idaho, up into the Southwest beauty of Canada and touches on Washington before getting back to where we started in impossibly shaped Idaho. It feels like when they were drawing up borders, Idaho wanted to remain neighbours with Canada at all costs. So here you get a change to visit those neighbours to the North and say hi to the ones in West in Washington too. Enjoy the ride and get to know your neighbours on the Kootenay loop!